Determining Grounds of Nullity


Because the Catholic Church does not believe in divorce, a Catholic whose marriage has failed who wishes to remarry, or a Catholic who wishes to marry a divorced non-Catholic must seek to have the prior marriage declared null. This is an ecclesiastical process that has nothing to do with the legal status of the prior marriage or the legitimacy and custody of the children. It seeks to examine the attempted marriage to see if it was indeed a valid Christian marriage as this is understood by the Catholic Church. If a valid marriage did not exist, then the person is still free to marry.

The grounds given below can give you an idea of what the church will be looking at. They do not give a full explanation of how the canons apply. If you wish to marry in the catholic church but there is a prior marriage, call the nearest parish and ask for an appointment with the person who handles marriage cases. This is usually one of the priests. You will need your marriage and divorce records, and a current baptismal certificate. In most dioceses the person who will interview you, your advocate, will ask you to give a detailed account of what happened. This information is held in confidence, but is not under seal like a confession. He will write a report to be sent in with your other papers suggesting to the tribunal why you should receive a declaration of nullity. Often there will be additional paperwork or an interview with a psychological counselor. Your former spouse will be notified, and you will be asked for the names of witnesses who can give information about the marriage. There will be some cost which will vary among the dioceses. It may be possible to ask for a reduction. No marriage can be scheduled until the declaration of nullity is granted.

"Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." Luke 16:18. See also, Matthew, 5:31-32 and 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-12.

Other Information

Sec. 1629. "For this reason [i.e. lack of consent] (or for other reasons that render the marriage null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the NULLITY of a marriage, i.e., that the marriage never existed.... In this case the contracting parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous union are discharged." Catechism of the Catholic Church.

You may find useful the Tribunal FAQ and checklist at the Archdiocese of Seattle.
Article at EWTN.
You can also see the tribunal information at the Diocese of Lansing Michigan.

Although Canon Law is universal, the process may vary considerably among dioceses and nations. For comparison, look at the information from the Tribunal of the Archdiocese of Melbourne, Australia.


 Click here to view the exact text of the code of Canon Law on Marrital Consent.

Insufficient use of reason (Canon 1095, 10)

You or your spouse did not know what was happening during the marriage ceremony because of insanity, mental illness, or a lack of consciousness.

Grave lack of discretionary judgment concerning essential matrimonial rights and duties (Canon 1095, 20)

You or your spouse was affected by some serious circumstances or factors that made you unable to judge or evaluate either the decision to marry or the ability to create a true marital relationship.

 Psychic-natured incapacity to assume marital obligations (Canon 1095, 30)

You or your spouse, at the time of consent, was unable to fulfill the obligations of marriage because of a serious psychological disorder or other condition.

 Ignorance about the nature of marriage (Canon 1096, sec. 1)

You or your spouse did not know that marriage is a permanent relationship between a man and a woman ordered toward the procreation of offspring by means of some sexual cooperation.

 Error of person (Canon 1097, sec. 1)

You or your spouse intended to marry a specific individual who was not the individual with whom marriage was celebrated. (For example, mail order brides; otherwise, this rarely occurs in the United States.)

 Error about a quality of a person (Canon 1097, sec. 2)

You or your spouse intended to marry someone who either possessed or did not possess a certain quality, e.g., social status, marital status, education, religious conviction, freedom from disease, or arrest record. That quality must have been directly and principally intended.

 Fraud (Canon 1098)

You or your spouse was intentionally deceived about the presence or absence of a quality in the other. The reason for this deception was to obtain consent to marriage.

 Total willful exclusion of marriage (Canon 1101, sec. 2)

You or your spouse did not intend to contract marriage as the law of the Catholic Church understands marriage. Rather, the ceremony was observed solely as a means of obtaining something other than marriage itself, e.g., to obtain legal status in the country or to legitimize a child.

 Willful exclusion of children (Canon 1101, sec. 2)

You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, to deny the other's right to sexual acts open to procreation.

 Willful exclusion of marital fidelity (Canon 1101, 12)

You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to remain faithful.

 Willful exclusion of marital permanence (Canon 1101, sec. 2)

You or your spouse married intending, either explicitly or implicitly, not to create a permanent relationship, retaining an option to divorce.

 Future condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2)

You or your spouse attached a future condition to your decision to marry, e.g., you will complete your education, your income will be at a certain level, you will remain in this area.

 Past condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2)

You or your spouse attached a past condition so your decision to marry and that condition did not exist; e.g., I will marry you provided that you have never been married before, I will marry you provided that you have graduated from college.

 Present condition (Canon 1102, sec. 2)

You or your spouse attached a present condition to your decision to marry and that condition did not exist, e.g., I will marry you provided you don't have any debt.

 Force (Canon 1103)

You or your spouse married because of an external physical or moral force that you could not resist.

 Fear (1103)

You or your spouse chose to marry because of fear that was grave and inescapable and was caused by an outside source.

 Error regarding marital unity that determined the will (1099)

You or your spouse married believing that marriage was not necessarily an exclusive relationship.

 Error regarding marital indissolubility that determined the will (Canon 1099)

You or your spouse married believing that civil law had the power to dissolve marriage and that remarriage was acceptable after civil divorce.

 Error regarding marital sacramental dignity that determined the will (Canon 1099)

You and your spouse married believing that marriage is not a religious or sacred relationship but merely a civil contract or arrangement.

 Lack of new consent during convalidation (Canons 1157,1160)

After your civil marriage, you and your spouse participated in a Catholic ceremony and you or your spouse believed that (1) you were already married, (2) the Catholic ceremony was merely a blessing, and (3) the consent given during. the Catholic ceremony had no real effect

The foregoing grounds of nullity are only for informational purposes. You need the help of someone trained and appointed to help you process your claim. There are no guarantees. The decision about nullity is made by a judge or judges serving your local tribunal. The process will probably take a year or more due to the many requests tribunals receive. Please be prepared to cooperate fully, honestly, and patiently.

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